Dansby Swanson assigned to Hillsboro

The first overall selection of the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Dansby Swanson, will embark on his professional baseball career with the Hillsboro Hops. Swanson will report to Hillsboro on August 12th for the first game of a five-game set with the Vancouver Canadians. Tickets are available at www.hillsborohops.com or by calling the Hillsboro front office at (503) 640-0887.

It is yet to be determined how long Swanson will play with Hillsboro. With his assignment to the Hops it means that the Diamondbacks’ first six selections of the 2015 draft (Swanson, Alex Young, Taylor Clarke, Breckin Williams, Ryan Burr, and Tyler Mark) either currently play for Hillsboro, or logged time with them during this season.

Swanson is a shortstop by trade and played his collegiate ball at Vanderbilt University, a strong baseball school that has produced major league talents like Toronto pitcher David Price, Oakland pitcher Sonny Gray, and Pittsburgh infielder Pedro Alvarez. Swanson and the Commodores won the 2014 College World Series over the Virginia Cavaliers. They advanced again in 2015 to the College World Series but this time fell to the same Cavaliers.

Swanson and former Hillsboro Hops left-handed pitcher Jared Miller were roommates and teammates during their time at Vanderbilt and celebrated the 2014 College World Series title together. The two are still very close friends and keep in close contact.dansby

Swanson was seen as the most polished all-around player in the 2015 MLB Draft Class. He is a strong hitter with a good amount of pop and a versatile middle infielder, logging significant time at both second base and shortstop at Vanderbilt. In his junior season at Vanderbilt he hit .335 with 24 doubles, 6 triples, 15 home runs, and 64 RBIs in just 71 games. He also swiped 16 bases. He’ll be a welcome addition to the Hillsboro offense and figures to slot in right away at shortstop.

He was sent to the AZL to begin his career where in his first ever simulated game, he took a 97 MPH fastball to the face, suffering a mild concussion and a facial laceration that required 14 stitches. The incident set back his assignment to an affiliate by a couple of weeks.

Swanson is expected to move through the system quickly. He is a very advanced hitter and is extremely well-regarded for his discipline and makeup. After he signed his contract, the Diamondbacks brought him to Chase Field to meet the big league team and take batting practice on the field, but Swanson declined the opportunity, instead saying he would take BP with the big club only when he has earned it. He plays very hard and is known to be a great teammate.

His negotiations with the Diamondbacks were well-documented as he reportedly signed his rookie contract just minutes before the deadline to sign, when he agreed to a $6.5 million dollar signing bonus.

Welcome to #HopsNation, Dansby!

2015 All-Star Game and a strong farm system

Earlier this week it was announced that four Hillsboro Hops were selected to participate in the 2015 All-Star Game. For the first time ever, the game will pit the Northwest League against the Pioneer League. Outfielder Zach Nehrir, right-handed pitcher Carlos Hernandez, and left-handed pitchers Jared Miller and Cody Reed will represent both the Hops and Northwest League on August 4 in Spokane.hops all stars

Last year the Hops had eight players selected (Jordan Parr, Nick Baker, Grant Heyman, Cody Geyer, Zac Curtis, Elvin Soto, Ryan Doran, and Dustin Loggins), but now the eight teams of the NWL will produce just one total team, whereas last year’s format was comprised of a team from the NWL-North Division and NWL-South Division. Now, it is just the single Northwest League Team, and spots in the game are much more difficult to come by.

The Pioneer League has eight teams, the same amount as the NWL. The Pioneer League teams are the Billings Mustangs (CIN), Ogden Raptors (LAD), Orem Owlz (LAA), Great Falls Voyagers (CWS), Idaho Falls Chukars (KC), Grand Junction Rockies (COL), Missoula Osprey (ARI), and the Helena Brewers (MIL).

Arizona and Colorado are the two big league teams with farm clubs in both the Northwest and Pioneer Leagues.

Hillsboro Hops 2014 relief pitcher Dan Savas is now pitching for Missoula, and will represent the Pioneer League squad.

There is a large contrast in styles between the two competing leagues. Pitching rules in the Northwest League, as ballparks are larger and at lower altitudes. The average team ERA in the NWL: 4.04. The league batting average in the NWL: .252.

The Pioneer League is a different story altogether. Teams play in small ballparks, and the balls fly all over the yard. To keep an ERA in the 4 range is no small feat. The average team ERA in the PIO: 5.23. The league batting average in the PIO: .285.

How fun is this going to be? We’ve got pitching on one side, and hitting on the other. Which one will reign supreme?

SHORT HOPS: The Diamondbacks’ affiliates are teams to be reckoned with. From the bottom of the chain, it goes: Dominican Summer League D-backs (DSL), Arizona League D-backs (AZL), Pioneer League Missoula Osprey (Rookie), Northwest League Hillsboro Hops (Short-A), Midwest League Kane County Cougars (A), California League Visalia Rawhide (Advanced-A), Southern League Mobile BayBears (AA), and Pacific Coast League Reno Aces (AAA).Arizona_Diamondbacks3

Missoula won the first half of the Pioneer League North Division by 5.5 games with a 23-14 record. Hillsboro won the first half of the Northwest League South Division with a 22-16 record. Kane County leads the Midwest League Western Division by 4 games in the second half with a 26-8 record. Visalia already won the first half of the California League North Division and holds a 63-40 overall record. Mobile currently leads the Southern League South Division by 2.5 games in the second half with a 20-12 record. That’s a strong system.

Some parent clubs use the minor leagues for development only – and that’s fine. Different teams have different organizational philosophies. The Diamondbacks certainly use the minor leagues for developing players, but they also place a large emphasis on creating a culture of winning. They want their players to learn how to win and to become good teammates. When you see such a strong affiliate showing like what’s currently happening in 2015, it stands to reason that the winning is on the way for the big league club.

Miller, Reed, Hernandez form a fearsome frontline

The 1995 Braves with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. The 2002 Oakland Athletics with Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder. The 2015 Hillsboro Hops with Jared Miller, Cody Reed, and Carlos Hernandez.

Jared Miller has earned quite a few high-fives this season. (Kevin Hume/Hillsboro Hops)

Jared Miller has earned quite a few high-fives this season. (Kevin Hume/Hillsboro Hops)

OK, yes, this isn’t the big leagues – yet – but the level of dominance exhibited by this fearsome troika of Hillsboro hurlers is almost beyond comprehension. Through July 24th, Miller, Reed, and Hernandez were numbers 1, 2, and 3 respectively in earned run average in the Northwest League. Miller was pacing the league at 1.33, Reed was on his heels at 1.37, and Hernandez was lurking at 1.47.

The next best ERA in the NWL behind the Hillsboro three? Eugene’s Oscar De La Cruz at 2.23. Hernandez is third on the podium on his own team, when his ERA would lead the NWL by nearly a full run otherwise.

Here are a few other categories in which the Hillsboro three occupy gold, silver, and bronze in the NWL:

Strikeouts – 1) Hernandez 53, 2) Reed 46, 3) Miller 45

WHIP – 1) Reed 0.76, 2) Hernandez 0.86, 3) Miller 0.95

Batting Average Against – 1) Reed .153, 2) Hernandez .172, 3) Miller .203

The Hops record when the three starters pitch: 13-8.

Cody Reed has already been named NWL Pitcher of the Week twice this season. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Cody Reed has already been named NWL Pitcher of the Week twice this season. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

To have three starters the caliber of Miller, Reed, and Hernandez is a wonderful thing, great for the Hops and their fans. The logical thought among Hillsboro fans is the retention of the three. Certainly all three have shown they can get hitters out at this level, and no doubt, Diamondbacks brass will be curious to see what they can do at higher levels.

Consider the following purely speculation.

  • Jared Miller seems to be the first member of the three with the chance at a promotion. He started the season with the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League and was effective early before hitting a rough patch. Since being reassigned to Hillsboro, he has found his form, and just may find a plane ticket elsewhere shortly.
  • Cody Reed, the 2014 second round selection out of Ardmore High School in Alabama, may stick around longer. The burly left hander is just 19 years old, and the Diamondbacks have shown no intention of rushing him through the system. He possesses a valuable arm, and the Northwest League is a great place to pitch.
  • Carlos Hernandez is the pitcher most likely to stay the longest with the Hops. He logged two seasons with the Pioneer League Missoula Osprey before his 2015 assignment to Hillsboro. His results for Missoula weren’t eye-popping, but for his age-18 and age-19 seasons, they were certainly something to build on. In 2015, his improvement has been staggering as his ERA has dropped almost three full runs. The Diamondbacks may need to see more of Hernandez’s stuff before they feel comfortable sending him to a higher level, but if his Hillsboro performance is any indication, it won’t be long until he is ready.

    Carlos Hernandez admires Pedro Martinez -- and is starting to pitch like him too. (Kevin Hume/Hillsboro Hops)

    Carlos Hernandez admires Pedro Martinez — and is starting to pitch like him too. (Kevin Hume/Hillsboro Hops)

With Hillsboro closing in on a playoff berth, big league clubs are often anxious to see how their young prospects perform in pressure-packed situations. As we saw in 2014 with guys like Markus Solbach and Zac Curtis, the playoffs provide a nice glimpse into a prospect’s intestinal fortitude. If the Hops clinch a playoff appearance, it may mean our horses see some playoff starts in Washington County.

With the All-Star Game rapidly approaching, (August 3-5 in Spokane, Washington) it appears the three pitchers are destined to earn appointments to the Northwest League team. The bigger question may be who earns the start in the game? All three Hops starters have staked their claim to the honor.

We’ll be happy as long as we have the Miller, Reed, Hernandez trio, but we’ll also be excited to watch them rise through the Diamondback system.

Go Hops.

Carlos Hernandez: Keeping grandma happy

Note: This story will appear in Volume II of the Hillsboro Hops Gameday Program, starting July 18.

The impetus to become a baseball player is usually pretty standard. A young man idolizes someone in the big leagues, admires the way he plays the game, and strives to emulate him. So when Hops pitcher Carlos Hernandez told me his grandmother, Alicia, is the person who inspired him to take up baseball, I did a double take. Then I pressed him.

“I started playing baseball when I was like 3 years old,” Hernandez began. “My grandma was a baseball lover so she got me into it.”

Hernandez with his grandmother, Alicia. (Photo courtesy of Carlos Hernandez)

Hernandez with his grandmother, Alicia. (Photo courtesy of Carlos Hernandez)

To say she was a baseball lover might even be a bit of an understatement. “She was the one who helped me through everything. She was my manager when I was 5 years old.” I was immediately curious how difficult it was for a young kid to be managed by his grandmother, who still resides in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, where Hernandez keeps a home in the offseason.

“It was pretty good, I felt like I had a responsibility because I wanted her to win.”

Growing up in the baseball-crazed Dominican Republic, Hernandez fell in love with the game not through seeing the many talented Dominican-born players in the big leagues, but instead as the star pupil on his grandmother’s baseball team.

Hernandez opened the season as the #4 starter for Hillsboro. The right-hander stands 5’11” and checks in at just 170 pounds, but he’s been throwing his weight around ever since he arrived at Ron Tonkin Field. On July 2 against the Eugene Emeralds, he recorded the best professional outing of his young career, when he breezed through seven shutout innings, working around three hits and three walks, while posting ten strikeouts. His grandmother and the rest of his family watched his fantastic outing via milb.tv in the Dominican Republic, and they celebrated his start with a phone call after the game.

He speaks English beautifully, the result of attending an English-speaking school in the Dominican Republic from ages 4-13. “I knew more English than Spanish when I was 9 years old,” says Hernandez.

He’s been enjoying a breakout year here in Hillsboro after posting middling results the past two seasons for the Pioneer League Missoula Osprey. He credits Hops pitching coach Doug Drabek with his improvement, but the changes haven’t been mechanical.

“I’m mentally better, I’ve been working a lot with Dougie so I feel pretty good. I’m more positive about making pitches, I know that they won’t hit it. Sometimes you’re afraid that they might hit it, so now I feel a lot more comfortable.”

Baseball has always been a mental game, and for many young pitchers in the throes of development, oftentimes the psychological breakthroughs are the most important. The minor leagues are here to help with that growth, as Hernandez refines not just his mechanics, but also his attitude and philosophy toward pitching.

As Hernandez grew up, he started following professional baseball players from the Dominican Republic, and became especially enamored with one jheri-curled diminutive right-hander from the island.

(Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

(Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

“Pedro Martinez,” Hernandez says with a smile and without hesitation, “No doubt about it. We’re almost the same size, he was kind of skinny like me. I wouldn’t be mad if I could throw like him,” he says, laughing.

So Hernandez presses on, emulating Pedro Martinez and at the constant behest of his grandmother Alicia in Santo Domingo. Armed with Drabek’s mental advice, and always working to smooth out his mechanics, he continues to improve. He wants to be a big leaguer. “I love the sport, it’s my dream since I was a little kid, it’s my grandma’s dream too, so it would be pretty nice to accomplish it.”

Hernandez keeps in touch often with his grandmother in Santo Domingo, whom he last saw four months ago. Any time the Hops are at home with Hernandez on the mound, she’s tuning in via computer from 3500 miles away.

The Ron Tonkin Field crowd is always friendly, but he knows Alicia is watching if he leaves a few pitches up in the zone, and worse, he’ll hear about it over the phone after the game. He wants to make his former manager proud. After all, he’s dreaming for the both of them.

Nehrir hot, an infield working out the kinks, and Aaron Blair

The Hillsboro Hops are almost two weeks into the new season, and have seen some early ups and downs. The Hops currently hold a 5-6 record, have lost three straight to the Vancouver Canadians, but find themselves locked in a three-way tie for first in the Northwest League South Division.

Good stuff: Zach Nehrir

Entering the season, there had been eight total four-hit games in the history of the Hillsboro Hops. Well, on 6/23 in the home opener against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Zach Nehrir provided the ninth. Then, on 6/24, also against the Volcanoes, Nehrir provided the tenth. That’s right—Nehrir posted consecutive four-hit games for the Hops as they completed a series sweep in the first three games at Ron Tonkin Field.

So who is Zach Nehrir? He was drafted this year by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 16th round out of Houston Baptist University. He is a native of Orange, California, and he may have clinched an everyday assignment in an otherwise crowded outfield. Oh—and it’s pronounced “NAIR-ee-AIR.”

HILLSBORO, OR - JUNE 23: The Hillsboro Hops vs Salem Keizer Volcanoes play on opening night at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro, OR. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Outfielder Zach Nehrir has enjoyed a fast start to his professional career. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Something to work on: the infield defense

Before the season began, the Hops were expected to field one of the more talented infield defenses in all of minor league baseball. Yes, Hillsboro has no shortage of defensive talent across the infield, but the results have not translated. Through 11 games, the Hops have committed 26 errors, most in the league. The next closest team has committed 19 errors.

Many of the errors attributed to Hops infielders are easy corrections. Sergio Alcantara, Fernery Ozuna, Nate Robertson, and Raymel Flores (since reassigned to Rookie-League Missoula) are all tremendous athletes and able to reach baseballs that most people cannot. Instead of making the routine play, they sometimes go the heroic route and the balls fly around the infield.

This is a kink that will be corrected with repetition, discipline, and patience. The Hops’ middle infield tandem of Alcantara and Ozuna is incredibly young, just 18 and 19 years old respectively. The minor leagues exist to develop players, and this is simply a part of that development. Players are known to improve drastically over the course of the season, so we’ll see where we find our guys as the year progresses.

History coming soon: Aaron Blair

Let’s turn the clock back to 2013 briefly. Remember Aaron Blair? The 2013 compensation round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks began his career here with the Hops, and is thisclose to becoming the first former Hop to play in the big leagues. How close? He is now pitching for AAA-Reno in the Pacific Coast League, and since being roughed up in his initial start with the Aces, has dazzled in his last two.

Reno is a notoriously difficult place to pitch in, and the PCL is ruthless on pitchers, as stadiums are at high-altitudes, and the park dimensions are diminutive in comparison to Hank Aaron Stadium and the other palaces of the AA-Southern League.

Lots of top prospects jump AAA straight to the big leagues. However, when pitchers have been assigned to Reno, it is oftentimes just a brief stop before the final promotion to the big leagues. When asked about the current starting pitching situation in the big leagues, Dave Stewart, General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, had this to say of Blair on June 13, 2015:

“My thought is I wouldn’t want to call them right now. But to give you an example, Blair is throwing the ball good. If he’s throwing the ball good in another month, then we’d probably have to consider him if we need starting pitching. It really just depends on what they’re doing…” (Steve Gilbert, mlb.com)

(Aaron Blair is still throwing the ball good a month later.) A few more solid starts, and Blair will have effectively kicked down the door to the big leagues.

It’s a good time to be a Hillsboro Hop.

Diamondbacks to pick first in next week’s MLB Draft

The 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft will be held from June 8th – June 10th and our parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, owns the first overall pick. That is no doubt exciting to not only the Hillsboro Hops, but also all the other affiliates in the Diamondbacks system, as a major infusion of talent is about to join the ranks.

The Diamondbacks have the first pick in every round of the draft, which means that the team will be able to add several talented players to an already talent-laden system. This draft is a little bit different however. There isn’t an obvious first-overall pick like there have been in years past. Think Stephen Strasburg. Think Bryce Harper. That doesn’t mean this is a weak draft, it just means the scouting department is a little bit busier compiling reconnaissance work. Indeed there is talent in every draft, and in this one, it will be about finding the right player that fits need and system.

Hillsboro Hops vs Spokane Indians

Braden Shipley (2013) started his career in Hillsboro after being selected in the first round of the MLB Draft. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

I know what you’re thinking: yes, it would be possible for the first overall pick to be assigned to Hillsboro to start his professional career. Since 1996, the Diamondbacks have had 29 first-round selections, and 9 have seen time in the Northwest League, and all since 2003. The D-backs are much more likely to assign a player drafted out of college rather than high school to a Short-Season team like Hillsboro. When the team drafts high-schoolers, the usual path is first to the Arizona Summer League (AZL) to iron out some kinks, and then often times, straight to Kane County. Other times, players may be assigned first to the AZL and jump to Rookie-League Missoula, before skipping Hillsboro straight to Kane County, as has been the case with 2014 first-rounder Touki Toussaint.

When the D-backs draft a player out of college, often times he is more polished than a high school product, and able to start at a more advanced level. This was the route for 2013 first-rounder Braden Shipley, who made his professional debut with the Hops and now pitches for the Double-A Mobile BayBears of the Southern League. So, if we’re pulling for the first-overall pick to be assigned to Hillsboro (and we are) let’s all cross our fingers and hope the D-backs draft a player out of college. The Diamondbacks are playing their cards close to the vest, but recent reports suggest the team may be leaning towards taking a college player with the first overall selection. A name circulating now is Vanderbilt product Dansby Swanson, a shortstop for the Commodores of the Southeastern Conference. It would not be surprising for the Diamondbacks to select a Commodore, as 2014 selections Touki Toussaint, Cody Reed, and Isan Diaz were all bound for Vanderbilt out of high school before electing to sign professional contracts. The Diamondbacks also selected Jared Miller out of Vanderbilt in the 11th round, who was then assigned to Hillsboro to begin his career.

Stryker Trahan (2014) was selected by the D-backs in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Stryker Trahan (2014) was selected by the D-backs in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Swanson hit .350 this season for the Commodores and is versatile on the infield, logging time at second base and shortstop, leading scouts to believe he can play either position at the major league level. He is known to be an intense competitor and a dedicated teammate. Vanderbilt has become something of a baseball factory, producing players like David Price and Sonny Gray, and Swanson seems to be the next in a long line of talented Commodores.

Swanson hasn’t been the only college player the D-backs have been linked to. Other names that have been tossed around include University of Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay, Vanderbilt teammate Carson Fulmer, University of California-Santa Barbara pitcher Dillon Tate, and several others. Like we mentioned, it’s a deep draft with no definitive number one overall pick. Any number of players can make a legitimate case to be taken first overall.

The Diamondbacks have also considered several high school players. Prep catcher Tyler Stephenson has been discussed, and some think prep shortstop Brendan Rodgers is the cream of this year’s crop. Again, if the D-backs decide to go with a high-school player, and they may, we would be less likely to see him in Hillsboro.

There is a lot of uncertainty as this year’s draft rapidly approaches, but one thing for certain is that the Diamondbacks will add a lot of talent to the system. We’ll cross our fingers that we see the first overall pick come through here, but we can rest assured that we will field another talented team in 2015 regardless.

Go Diamondbacks and go Hops!

20 days until Opening Day.

Hops hit home run with first-ever Fan Fest


Is that a future Hop I see? (Hillsboro Hops)

Saturday, May 16th marked a momentous day in Hops history. The team hosted its first-ever Hillsboro Hops Fan Fest at Ron Tonkin Field, the finest baseball facility in the land. Hops fans came from far and wide to celebrate the rapidly approaching baseball season, and to enjoy a complimentary hot dog and Coke on the Hops.

Fan Fest went from 10 AM – 2 PM and featured free parking and admission. Tons of fun attractions littered the playing field and the concourse, including an inflatable Kids’ Zone out in centerfield, a designated space to play catch in left field, and a face-painter for the kids stationed on the 3rd-base concourse. The event coincided with the release of single-game tickets to the general public, and the response from Hops fans all over Washington County and beyond was overwhelming.

The event also featured an area for speed pitch in the visitors’ bullpen, where the unofficial fastest pitch recorded was a blazing 74 miles per hour, an opportunity for kids to run the bases, a live radio remote broadcast on Rip City Radio 620 AM with Rich Burk, the Voice of the Hops, tours of the ballpark, and a special sale at the team’s merchandise store.

The initial projection for expected attendees was right around 500 people, and by 11:30 AM, that number had already been exceeded. Hops Nation came out in full force, pushing the unofficial attendance to 2,000 people.

“We really weren’t too sure what to expect when we started drawing up the concept for the event. We knew we’d be able to get fans to the ballpark, but for the turnout to quadruple our expectations is more than anyone could have asked for,” said Hops Executive Vice President and General Manager K.L. Wombacher. “It’s just unbelievable to have the fan support we do.”

With the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft right around the corner, and the start of the season just beyond, we’ll start to really gain an understanding of who our 2015 Hops will be. With Fan Fest in the rear-view mirror, we’re full-speed ahead here at the ballpark, and ready to build on our championship campaign.

26 days until the Hops play at Ron Tonkin Field.

38 parties a year

With the season opener less than a month away, and the home opener just a few days beyond that, baseball is once again in the air here in Hillsboro. It’s the best three months of the year, as we’re lucky enough to host 38 parties for the wonderful fans in our community who consider Ron Tonkin Field their summer home.


Don’t feed the zombies. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

And who doesn’t like theme parties?

Remember Zombie Night last year? It was a smash hit, as fans came dressed as the living dead, and face painters were on site to accommodate the forgetful. Well, on July 2, the undead will again descend upon Ron Tonkin Field in the sequel to the first installment. There will be a blood drive hosted on the front plaza of the stadium from 2-7 PM and we will again have face painters on the concourse. And, never fear, there will be a heavy dose of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” all throughout the night.

But that’s not the only fun night for kids and parents. On July 11 and 12, we’ll again be hosting Youth Sports Weekend. Little league teams can register for the event and will have the opportunity to walk around the field before the games and get autographs from Hops players. Teams are encouraged to sign up for the event by July 8. Contact Vanessa Parker at (503) 640-0887 if you’d like more information about getting a team in on the festivities.


Sign your team up now for Youth Sports Weekend! (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

If you’re a baseball history buff, you’ll love what we’ve got planned for August 20. We’re hosting Portland Mavericks Night, an homage to the former independent league baseball team that played in the Northwest League from 1973-1977. The team is the focus of the Netflix original documentary, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.” We’ve got a few fun things up our sleeve for the night. Stay tuned for details.

The very next day, August 21, ESPN anchor and former Oregon resident Neil Everett will be the guest of honor. The first 1500 fans in attendance will receive custom-made Neil Everett bobbleheads, Neil will throw the first pitch, and in honor of Everett’s affinity for all things Hawaiian, we’ve scheduled Hawaiian night to coincide with his appearance. The Hops will also be passing out leis at the ballgame.

Lots of teams say it, but there truly is something for everybody at Ron Tonkin Field this year. It’s a lovely place to spend a summer, and a wonderful venue for some family time.

We can’t wait to see all of Hops Nation shortly and to share our ballpark, the best in all of Minor League Baseball, with all of you next month.

29 days until the Hops’ title defense begins. 34 days until the champs come home.

House at home in Visalia

J.R. House managed the 2014 Hillsboro Hops to a 52-28 record, the highest mark in all of Short-Season baseball, en route to a Northwest League Championship. Unsurprisingly, a performance like that earned him a call up the ranks to manage the Visalia Rawhide of the Advanced-A California League.

Now, how do you back up the best record in all of Short-Season baseball and a league championship? Well, House’s ‘Hide have shot out of the gate, posting a 20-7 record in their first 27 games, racing to a 6-game lead in the division, all the while outscoring opponents by a whopping 152-75 margin. I’m no expert, but that seems good.

Hillsboro Hops vs Salem-Kaiser Volcanoes

House’s ‘Hide can’t stop winning. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

OK, but how much difference does a manager really make? Look no further than House’s past stops. In 2012, he made his coaching debut as the hitting coach in the Rookie Pioneer League with the Missoula Osprey. Won a title. The next year, he jumped to Hillsboro to work with hitters here. It’s the only year he’s coached that he didn’t win it all. We all remember what happened in 2014 with him at the helm here. Now in 2015, his Rawhide certainly appear to be the early Cal League title favorite. Wins and House have become a trend, not an exception.

House isn’t the only 2014 Hop contributing to Visalia’s simmering start. He’s joined there by thumpers Kevin Cron and Stewart Ijames, who have combined to whack 12 home runs thus far. Ijames was a late call-up to the 2014 Hops, but was an immediate contributor to the postseason run, hitting two home runs and driving in five runs in the Hops’ four playoff victories. Cron set a then-Hops hitting-streak record with a 12-game run during the 2014 season, only to be surpassed by infielder Steve Nyisztor, who posted a 15-game streak. Their bats are a big reason why House and the ‘Hide keep posting victories.

The minor leagues are a place of constant evaluation–and not just for the players on the field. Minor league managers, hitting coaches, and pitching coaches are prospects just as much as the players they shape. Current Arizona Diamondbacks skipper Chip Hale was himself a minor league manager for three seasons with the Tucson Sidewinders, where he managed the former Diamondback Triple-A affiliate to the 2006 Pacific Coast League title.

Most major league managers have at least some experience coaching in the minor leagues, and if House’s clubs continue to overwhelm opponents, it won’t be long until he finds himself on the radar for some club in their managerial search. Add to that the fact that House was a Major League catcher and it can only help. This year alone in the big leagues, 16 of the 30 managers were catchers in their playing careers.


47 days until Shelley Duncan fills House’s big shoes in Hillsboro.

Hop relievers dominant at the next level

More often than not in 2014, when the Hops were leading the game after six innings, it was a done deal. Tally another in the win column, because Luis “Toro” Ramirez, Mason McCullough, Cody Geyer, and Zac Curtis were taking us home.

How good were they? The measure of a bullpen is directly correlative to the team’s performance in close games. In the regular season last year, the Hops posted an 18-10 record in 1-run games, and a 9-2 record in 2-run games. Frankly, it’s difficult to pitch when the game is on the line, and Hops relievers did it with aplomb.

Hillsboro Hops vs Spokane Indians

Luis Ramirez is doing what he did in Hillsboro with Kane County. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Now, the reason I bring it up: Ramirez, McCullough, Geyer, and Curtis all moved up a level to the Long-A Midwest League to play for the Kane County Cougars. The step-up in competition has to mean a little regression, right? Nope.

Through April 29, the lines for the back-end of the 2014 Hops bullpen with the Kane County Cougars:

Luis Ramirez: 8 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 6 BB, 10 K, 2.25 ERA. Opponents hitting .115 against him.

Cody Geyer: 9.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 SO, 0.93 ERA. Opponents hitting .103.

Zac Curtis: 8 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 11 K, 1.13 ERA. Opponents hitting .071.

Mason McCullough: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 9 K, 0.00 ERA. Opponents hitting .087.

Imagine being a team in the Midwest League, facing a 4-2 deficit against the Cougars in the 7th inning. Kane County skipper Mark Grudzielanek can just look into the bullpen for any former Hop, and feel confident that the game will go his way.

What does a good bullpen do for a team? It effectively shortens the game. Consider the Kansas City Royals, the reigning American League Champions. The back end of their bullpen last year consisted of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland, an absolute murderer’s row of relievers. Royals’ starters just had to be decent through 6 innings, then pass it to that troika and wait for the “W” to be posted.

An additional benefit: If the team is trailing, the opposing team’s lead would not be extended as long as those relievers are toeing the rubber.

This is the advantage the Hops’ bullpen of 2014 provided for the eventual Northwest League Champions, and the advantage they’re bringing to the 2015 Kane County Cougars.

Keep it up, boys!

52 days until Opening Day.


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